Robots for SMEs and to combat shortage of skilled workers
6/23/2023 Young talents News

Robots for SMEs and to combat shortage of skilled workers

Shortage of skilled workers, difficult delivery conditions and high energy costs: German SMEs are struggling with major challenges. According to a global survey by the Manpower Group, 75 per cent of all entrepreneurs said they had difficulty filling positions. The use of industrial robots should provide a remedy.

KUKA robot automating the flexible production of different types of workpieces
KUKA-Manager Gerhard Müller Gerhard Müller, responsible for the regions Germany, Austria and Switzerland within KUKA's robotics division.
"It is becoming more difficult to find employees, especially for physically demanding and at the same time monotonous tasks. The turnover of skilled workers is particularly high in these types of tasks," says Gerhard Müller, responsible for the regions Germany, Austria and Switzerland within KUKA's robotics division, a supplier of robotics as well as plant and systems engineering.

The Augsburg-based manufacturer is therefore increasingly targeting small and medium-sized companies with tailored products and solutions, but has observed a long period of reticence: "Many entrepreneurs have so far shied away from the use of robots. Automation is too complex, too expensive and there is too much skepticism in the team," Müller continues. 
However, this picture is currently changing. More and more small companies are recognising the opportunities that lie in the automation of tasks. For example, a galvanising plant with 65 employees from the Black Forest was able to overcome reservations and save long transport distances by purchasing a compact robot welding cell. The situation is similar at the small Fiedler brewery in the Erz Mountains, for example, where a KUKA robot stacks the heavy beer crates.
In times of a shortage of skilled workers, the concern of employees about being replaced by a robot in production, which used to be so prevalent, is hardly an issue anymore. We also get feedback from customers that many are happy to hand over tasks that strain their backs, wrists or nerves.
Gerhard Müller, Robotics Division, KUKA
Kuka palletising robot moves four beer crates Palletising robot from Kuka moves four beer crates at the same time.

Encountering shortage of skilled workers with robots

Robots are already in use today for palletizing, loading and unloading machines, quality control or welding - even and increasingly outside the already highly automated automotive industry.

"Such a robot is then quickly picked up and can complement well-established teams very well. Many users even give our robots names," says Müller. Many customers would also give KUKA as feedback that they were able to assign more interesting tasks to their employees after automation. 

Another effect: A company that uses robots is more attractive to new applicants. Finally, the management shows that it is positioning itself for the future and is investing in new technologies and thus in innovation.

Investment pays off after 17 months

A typical solution, in which a KUKA robot takes over the welding, costs about 110,000 euros. The price includes a project-specific welding device, the welding technology, the programming of the robot as well as the commissioning on site and the training of the employees. The costs for an employee who would otherwise take over this task would be about 40,000 euros per year.

Since the automation would run in two shifts, personnel costs of 80,000 euros would have to be reckoned with. Return-on-investment calculators commonly used in the industry then show the result: after about 17 months, the investment in a robotic solution has paid for itself.


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